I woke up this morning thinking about refuge. Witnessing the suffering in our country from the relative safety of our mountaintop is quite the privilege. Every instinct we have has been telling us to become as food and energy independent as possible, and to create a place that offers comfort and diversion in uncertain times.
This is now our whole life in one picture; the modest rented home from which we work, and the bit of land we are trying to fill with as much life as possible. It's a story of our times that feels right to tell.
So thank you for reading, and here's what we've been up to in May...
May is one of my favorite months, the perfection of spring, the welcoming of the sun while everything is still green and before the hot, dry summer begins. It certainly is my favorite garden building time. It feels good to be back in the saddle, working in such a peaceful setting on a garden that will feed our family.
We don't have a lot of flowers around the place now; but what we do have we have a lot of! This huge clump of Salvia leucantha is tucked in a deep corner between the driveway and the front walk. It just needs to be cleaned up a bit in late winter and it blooms year-round. Same with the massive banks of lavender and lantana in the back - they must all have been here for years. I tucked praying mantis egg cases in several likely places earlier this spring - hopefully my favorite insect will be making an appearance later in the season!
So here is where May began - still in that frustrating "it looks great in my head" place where everything is just a mess. First priority was to get the poor strawberry starts planted (they've been waiting more than a week for us to get the bed gopher-proofed). Half the bed is "Quinalt" ever-bearing and half is "Evie-2" day-neutral. Next tasks: set up the second raised bed and fill the grow bags for the warm season vegetables. We'll have no shortage of sun, that's for sure.
A week later and things are looking much better! I scored these beautiful chunky bamboo poles from a kind neighbor, and have been pondering what to do with them in the garden. The shortest one was used to span the gate, which was an immediate improvement! A second one will be suspended from the two tomato cages in the back, and will hold the cucumber netting. And the last four really wanted to be a bean teepee, so I said fine.
I like adding height in the middle of a garden; it keeps things interesting and makes good use of your space. The metal raised bed gives the poles nice corners to lock into, and the whole arrangement is pretty darn sturdy.
I was going to have all my shelling beans grow up some sort of trellis along the south-facing side of the garden, but changed my mind for a couple of reasons. First, only one of the beans was actually a climber (oops!) Second, I now have a bean teepee! So I'll grow the one climber (Hidatsa Red Indian) on it, along with some heirloom Cannelini beans. The bush beans are neatly lined up behind, as they should be.
Flower break! This is the first bloom on my new Thunbergia "Rose Sensation" from Annie's Annuals. It is one of the most cheerful plants ever. I'm tucking vigorous vines in two opposite corners of the garden, hoping to enclose it a bit and provide shelter from wind. I have also popped a couple of moonflower seeds into the pot, I would love to get them growing on the fence as well. You can see little Rose peeping out in the lower left corner of the next photo.
I asked my generous neighbor if he had any more bamboo laying around, looking for something to do, and he did! I had been toying with the idea of reinforcing the top of the fence with bamboo, and the new pieces were perfect for that. Have I mentioned that zip-ties are the best invention ever?
It's details like this that make the garden feel settled, complete and personal, no matter what you are working with. My design/build mantra is: finish your edges, hide your wires, mind your transitions and be generous with your materials.
Remember when I said I'd figure something out for the gates in the deer fencing? Here's one solution. Another kind neighbor gave me some smaller bamboo poles, with top-knots still attached. I slit the deer fence right up the middle of the gate opening, and then wove a pole in and out along each edge and secured with zip ties.
Someday I'll have a nice gate here, but for now, this works fine. We really don't have deer nosing around this area of the property; it's off their normal browsing path, and there is SO MUCH else for them to eat that we haven't seem them expend extra effort for food. We close it up at night anyway (we've recently spotted chipmunks, rabbits and a sunflower-seed loving skunk, all of whom could cause mischief in a garden.) Time will tell what visitors we'll have, and how resourceful they will be - we really have no idea!
I've been flirting with this chair for ages, and decided I now have somewhere to put it. My daughter and I were talking recently about our mutual love of chairs. I think it's because I need to sit to really think and focus. When I'm planning a garden, I can sit motionless for an hour, just looking and thinking and planning and imagining. And once the garden is done, I like to sit and look at it! EVERY garden must have a chair or two, otherwise it's just a place to stand around in.
And who has time to stand around anyway, because the chicken coop has arrived! Bang on time as promised from Urban Northern Coops in Washington. It was beautifully made, reasonably priced and easy to put together. This is just part of our chicken housing arrangement though; with wild animals about we want to make sure the girls are safe, so we're designing a solid setting for it.
Flower break! Hector is due to mow the meadow today (it has to be done for fire safety, and to prevent us from misplacing Milo). Viewed up close it's a very sweet collection of sturdy small field flowers (the yellow dandelion is about the size of a dime, for reference). It's been interesting to watch the succession of blooms.
But who has time for blooms when there is planting to be done? I will spare you the complete inventory; you'll no doubt meet the rest of the cast at some point. I will share a couple of highlights though; these exquisite pale-green zucchini come from Lebanon, and are very sweet and tender.
Shelling beans are so cool looking! This mix includes several varieties, including these called Jacob's Cattle. I'm doing individual pots of each variety (don't YOU sort all your seed mixes?) These are beans that you leave on the plant all season until the pods turn leathery. Then you shell all of the beans at once, dry them a bit and then store them for the winter!
Carrots, beets and spinach are coming right along! We've been harvesting spinach leaves and beet greens for salads already. I don't harvest the whole spinach plant, by just removing the outer leaves you can keep it going a lot longer. This variety is called Bloomsdale and is so tender and tasty.
By Memorial Day weekend the sun has come out and night temperatures have topped 50 degrees, so you know what that means? We can plant all the tomato, pepper and cannabis seedlings and get our windowsills back!
John's in his happy place in the back 420!
More fun with bamboo - now that the tomatoes are planted I can finish building the cucumber trellis. Kind of hard to see, isn't it? This is black vegetable netting suspended from the large bamboo pole, and anchored at the bottom with another piece of the slender bamboo. All firmly zip-tied to the tomato cages - this makes everything more stable. We have one grow-bag of pickling cucumbers (smaller and bumpy) and one of slicing cucumbers (smoother skin).
As May draws to a close, my heart aches for the world. The solace of familiar garden rhythms has been comforting. Everything is in the ground and something new is sprouting every day. I even found the perfect spot for my small strand of prayer flags; you'd be surprised how much their gentle fluttering adds to the peaceful feel of the place. With bees settling in and the garden planted, our next project is to get our greenhouse and chicken area figured out.
So now we're up to date, except for one more sunset! This is our view on a hot evening, with the high pressure holding all the fog down, and a knife-sharp horizon line.